It was just the first day of qualifying for the 2023 French Open on Monday but the crowds, and their enthusiasm, made it feel like it was the full-blown main event.
The picture above is from Court No. 14, which seats 2,200 spectators, and it was packed to overflowing for a match between No. 156-ranked Frenchman Enzo Couacaud and the eventual winner No. 142 Austrian Filip Misolic.
In spite of temperatures only being in the low 20s, the sun was hot to the point that a young ball-boy (below) had to be helped off the court in the third set of Couacaud – Misiloic and an older woman, suffering in the heat, stopped play just a few moments later when she had to be taken away in a wheelchair.
The fanaticism of the French fans showed in the numbers – with 8,000 entering the grounds compared to only 3,700 on the same day a year ago.
The day ended on Court No. 14 with a major upset as No. 278-ranked Margaux Rouvroy of France ousted the 2020 Roland Garros runner-up Sofia Kenin. Rouvroy (at the moment of victory below) is 22 and has a one-handed backhand. She played well but Kenin, now ranked No. 120, was not at her best despite having shown improving form of late. Trailing 6-4, 4-3, she received a visit from the trainer and had her left thigh wrapped. But it didn’t help, two games later she was out 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of qualifying.
On Tuesday, the three Canadians in the qualifying make their debuts with No. 177-ranked Carol Zhao first up facing No. 279 Katarzyna Kawa of Poland, who beat Rebecca Marino in the opening round of Wimbledon last year. Zhao vs Kawa is at the 10 a.m. start time (4 a.m. ET in Canada) on Court No. 11.
Katherine Sebov is fourth on Court No. 2 after 10 a.m. versus Petra Marcinko of Croatia. The 257-ranked Marcinko is 17 and will be matched against the No. 141-ranked 24-year-old from Toronto who has made marked progress in 2023 – including qualifying for her first Grand Slam event at the 2023 Australian Open.
Gabriel Diallo is playing the second Grand Slam qualifying of his career after exiting in the first round at the Aussie Open in January. Now ranked No. 146, the 20-year-old Montrealer will take on Timofey Skatova. The Kazakh, 22, is ranked No. 147 and will be playing Diallo in the fifth match on Court No. 6.
The most notable change in the Roland Garros panorama this year is the look of Court Suzanne Lenglen. The superstructure for the retractable roof, which will be operational next year, is already in place. It makes it look like the stadium has grown wings, and it dwarfs the original, distinctive symmetrical arc at the top of the stadium facing back toward Court Philippe Chatrier. It’s barely distinguishable anymore.
Seen walking among spectators between Court Suzanne Lenglen and Court Philippe Chatrier on Monday was former world No. 3 and coach of Roger Federer, Ivan Ljubicic. The 44-year-old Croat spoke a bit about several players, including three that have been in the Top 10, as well as former No. 10 Denis Shapovalov, who have had discussions with him about coaching. So far he has not committed himself to anyone. Asked if he still played tennis, he said “only sometimes with my son.” Pressed on whether he has now changed to golf, he quickly responded, “oh no, I’m playing chess.” He claims it’s good for his brain.
All players are fair game for selfies around the site, and No. 109-ranked James Duckworth of Australia posed on Monday with the chaps pictured above. The fellow in the black T-shirt is a super-knowledgeable tennis fan.
The main Roland Garros boutique was open for business on the first day of qualifying. There’s a wide range of products available with Lacoste going bigtime with its collection of hats.
There were two guys walking through the crowd on Monday carrying a model of a tennis court done by kindergarten children. The rumour has it that the young, aspiring artists are going to be visiting Roland Garros on Tuesday.
There are several interactive activities for visitors to Roland Garros. The example above here has to be one of the more passive ones as spectators can place their faces on images of French No. 1 Caroline Garcia and 1983 French Open champion Yannick Noah, who is celebrating the 40th anniversary of his memorable victory this year.